ALLICE’S INTERVIEWS: "The key to success in energy efficiency is to think out of the box and get off the beaten track ! » - RIM EL ARJOUN, HELIOCLIM

On 13|07|2023 Published on 13|07|2023
"The key to success in energy efficiency is to think out of the box and get off the beaten track!"
Rim El Arjoun, CEO of HELIOCLIM, a company based in Cannes and Paris, specialised in new thermal production methods.

ALLICE:  You graduated from Paris Dauphine with a double degree in marketing and finance, a rather unusual profile for a CEO in the industrial world. What brought you to the helm of HELIOCLIM? 

I started my career in a mass retailer where I had the opportunity to go to Italy to develop a new market. I loved this experience, which gave me my first taste of what an entrepreneurial adventure could be, and I really enjoyed it.

When I returned to France, I joined ALLICE. During a webinar, one of the founders of HELIOCLIM announced that the company was for sale and I jumped at the chance. So I took over the company in 2020 with a few employees and the 2 founders who decided to continue the adventure. I usually joke that ALLICE is the "MEETIC" of energy efficiency !

What do you like about industry, and energy efficiency in particular?

I truly believe that to be successful in any sector you need two ingredients: great intellectual flexibility and a strong sense of curiosity. These are two aspects that I can put to good use in this sector and that help me a lot. I have a deep interest in these subjects, which allows me to understand what's at stake without going so far as to do a dimensioning study (laughs).

It's also, of course, a personal commitment, part of a global reflection on our consumption habits and the butterfly effect of our daily actions. I may be naive, but I don't think you can stay in the energy efficiency business if you don't believe in it with all your heart.

And I must emphasise that I have been particularly well supported in this adventure. I'm lucky to have technical experts in thermochemistry and materials management working with me.

You seem to pay particular attention to your teams.

Yes, I attach a lot of importance to the people who make up our team, because good cohesion creates a positive, driving atmosphere. We pay particular attention to the profiles we recruit because we want them to fit in well with the team.

Indeed, recruitment is one of the challenges we face when setting up in the PACA region. It's an area where seasonal work is in demand, so it's a big challenge for us to retain people. Our manufacturing process doesn't exist anywhere else, everything is eco-designed in-house, so we rely on skilled, trained people to produce quality equipment.

So a cohesive team is the key to a successful business? 

Absolutely! When I took over HELIOCLIM, the company had 3 employees and now, after 2 years, we have more than 30! We ended the year with a respectable turnover and more than satisfactory results, all thanks to the dedication of our technical staff, who have done some amazing things. They are willing to roll up their sleeves and think outside the box with me. This mindset is crucial, especially in the energy efficiency sector, where there is a lot of work to be done! Every day, we have to design systems that are nonexistent. The more we resolve an issue, the more we grasp the need for additional action behind it. It is essential to have a rational and technical mindset with the ability to think creatively if we want to speed up technical development processes.

Do you have any examples to illustrate the need to think outside the box when it comes to energy efficiency? 

The history of our company is a good example. HELIOCLIM was originally created by 5 founders who worked in the aerospace sector, developing solar panels for satellites. They wondered how they could use their expertise in material resistance and sensors to contribute to the energy transition.

And what are the current applications for your solution? 

Our technology is designed for both the industrial and service sectors and is suitable for any type of industry that requires heat and/or waste heat. We are working on concentrated solar capture, which uses absorption to turn heat into cold. On the one hand, we have a hot technology block with concentrated solar collectors that can eventually produce steam for industrial use, and on the other hand, we have an absorption machine that can convert any kind of heat, whether waste heat or solar heat, into cold.

Our solutions can therefore be adapted to all industrial contexts involving heating and cooling consumption. Our equipment never replaces 100% of the thermal consumption. They are added to the conventional equipment installed at the customer's site in order to achieve energy savings. For example, we can replace up to 30% of annual gas or electricity consumption. It should also be noted that our main strength lies in our solid technical core (our value chain is internalised), but above all in our financial control of projects, which means that manufacturers don't have to invest.

Is there a specific project you'd like to talk about? 

At the last edition of FIRE (an event organised jointly by ALLICE and CETIAT), we presented the projects we have set up on the ETYPHARM sites. The first project will decarbonise a quarter of the site's emissions from heat consumption, saving 500 tonnes of CO2 per year. At the second site, our installation will eliminate the equivalent of the consumption of the surrounding housing estates for a year. It's a strong commitment to the people and communities where we operate.

These figures are more than encouraging for manufacturers. Are they ready to take the plunge? 

Obviously, rising energy costs over the last year or two have made manufacturers sit up and take notice. They want to optimise their processes once they have installed all the standard equipment that is available. Unfortunately, we feel that the relevant administrative authorities are not providing enough support for companies like us. They should be encouraging the industrial champions of tomorrow, who are admittedly small and using emerging technologies, but who, with a little help, could become France's future multinationals in a highly competitive energy world.

Today, there is a certain willingness on the part of the country's governing bodies at the macro level, but not yet on the part of the operational staff, who are reluctant to promote technologies with which they are not yet familiar, preferring standard equipment. What a shame! It's by thinking outside the box that we find new perspectives! 

How do you deal with this lack of support?

For our part, we rely on two areas of expertise: technical and financial. Thanks to them, we are able to find competitive levers outside any funding framework. If we had stuck to the traditional industrial model, we wouldn't have lasted long. Every day I see valid companies with promising technologies going bankrupt for lack of support.

And beyond this lack of support, what do you see as the challenges to decarbonising industry in general?

As I said, one of the biggest challenges for me is to think outside the box and then gain the confidence of the market. But more generally, as manufacturers, we need to talk to each other, make connections and not be afraid to go and see what's being done in sectors other than our own! For example, I've been able to meet people from all walks of life at face-to-face events. It's this exchange that feeds me and encourages me to innovate.

So you benefit from your ALLICE membership?

Absolutely! In particular, I can mention the ALLICE study « Efficient Cold For Industry », which has been a key factor in our thinking and has helped us a lot to project ourselves on this issue. We also had a number of business opportunities and were selected as part of France Relance thanks to the presentation we gave with two other ALLICE members at FIRE 2020. Thanks to the 2022 edition in September, we were able to meet an organisation interested in our technology in the agri-food sector. ALLICE covers a wide range of topics in an expert and well-documented way. It puts us in touch with people who present REX and R&D teams who deal with the market on a daily basis.

Finally, what would be your motto in relation to the world of decarbonisation?

"Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed!"

It's simple, but it's the truth! I'm delighted to be able to dip into the industry's 'dustbin' by recovering waste heat and turning it into value! We're making savings with what should be lost, and that makes sense!